Someone was asking, recently, for the best “self-help” and personal development book that others had read. One of the group members suggested “The Bible”.
I admit, I initially responded (internally) with “no, definitely not“. (Possibly even more along the lines of a visceral response of “hell no”).
A few days later, I was reading a post (somewhere on the internet) about how self-help books are no good and that if we are truly interested in transforming our lives – what we really need is more stories.
This took me back, immediately, to thinking about “Is the Bible really the best self-help book?”
Marcus Borg wrote a controversial book (at least in Christian circles) Reading the Bible again for the first time. This is one of the few books that I can say transformed my thinking!
In fact – I was quite taken aback initially!
For someone that grew up in a conservative evangelical environment, this book sparked all my intellectual interest but challenged the beliefs taught by leadership. I had given up on “the Church”, as such. But I wasn’t ready to give up on “is there a God?” and “if so, what is my relationship with the Divine?”.
So, this book came into my life at a time I was looking for answers, looking for a new relationship with the Divine – a relationship in which I could separate religion and Christian “doctrine” from how I related to I AM.
Borg, for many Conservative Christians, is almost the anti-Christ. He dares to say that perhaps part of the Bible is merely stories handed down by word of mouth, without actually being historically correct. He says things such as:
“Myth is stories about the way things never were, but always are.”
“The Bible is true, and some of it actually happened.”― Marcus Borg
He asks questions, such as: What if, instead of looking at the stories of the Bible as historically accurate, we looked at them as simply being “Truth“? Not because they are factually correct. Not because “exactly these words were spoken”, but rather because as we sit with the story and the application of it in our own lives, we come closer to discovering God for ourselves!
Many Christians are offended because Borg also states:
The Bible is a human product: it tells us how our religious ancestors saw things, not how God sees things.Marcus Borg (2014).
“Convictions: A manifesto for progressive Christians”, p.81, SPCK
Part of me agrees with him.
Are you busy looking at the finger – or out the window?
Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that God is standing outside of the window. The Bible is simply the finger that points TO God, standing outside the window.
We, unfortunately, have gotten hooked on looking exclusively at “the finger”, rather than to where the finger points us!
At the end of the day, our relationship is not with the Bible – the relationship is with God. The Bible is merely a tool in the process! And in some churches, I believe it runs the risk of becoming an idol, replacing God. God speaks THROUGH the Bible – the Bible is not God.
Throughout the Bible we can read “and the Word of the Lord came to”… nowhere does the Bible say “this is the Word of the Lord”… is merely is a record of it. And as such, possibly prone to human errors – in the retelling of the oral traditions, in the first written accounts, in later transcription, and in translation.
We find differences in the way that translations were made. Take something as simple as the name of God.
Most Bibles refer to God as “the Lord” or “the Lord God”. Nonetheless, we find that this is not the original words used!
The Rotherham translation uses the word “Yahweh” as the translation of God’s name. In all of these cases, the meaning of the Hebrew name YHWH – God’s name – is “the Self-existent,” “He who becometh,” or “the becoming one.”Why did God call Himself, “I AM THAT I AM”?
The Hebrew words in Exodus 3:14 for “I AM THAT I AM” are ehyeh asher ehyeh which should more accurately be translated “I will be what I will be” or as Rotherham translates it, “I will become whatsoever I may become.”
So… we are not talking about a God that lords over us… Does that affect how you relate to God? (And this, by the way, is one of the reasons that I don’t use “the Lord” in my blog posts… well, because it’s not actually accurate!). In fact, I would say that any name I try to use for God does not do God justice… how do you describe the Infinite?
Additionally, I remind myself that this is not actually a Book… it is called the “Bible” because it is a compilation of books. And, depending on which Bible you read:
- 66 books – traditional Bible, such as the King James Version
- 73 books – Catholic Bible
- 79 books – Greek Orthodox Bible
- 81 books – Ethiopian Orthodox Church
There is agreement that there are 27 books of the New Testament – but the Hebrew Scriptures show a marked difference in deciding which books to include or exclude, as well as the weight and importance to be given to them. That is, some of the books are actually said to be “simple human accounts”, acknowledging that they are not, in any way, Divinely inspired.
You might find this article: Fifteen Myths about Bible Translation interesting to see some of the constant debates that continue to exist to this day.
That does nothing to lessen my faith in God.
Additionally, I can sit comfortably with the idea that the Bible can be interpreted in different ways:
- literally / historically
- allegorically (typologically)
- metaphysically or
- eschatologically / heavenly (end of times & afterlife)
And, perhaps, we (all being human as we are) don’t actually know which meaning is intended to be taken of a given passage.
And I’m perfectly okay with not knowing.
Perhaps all of the passages have most of these interpretations.
Today, as I read it, I might see it simply as a story – a tradition handed down, to tell a tribe of the significance of their history. Or to recount the story of one of their ancestors.
Tomorrow, reading it with a different perspective, I might understand it as a parable or metaphor for something else.
And yet, another time, I might understand a more metaphysical meaning of it.
The fact that it might have so many different interpretations – does not make my faith waver. Because, in the end – the Bible is simply the FINGER pointing towards the Divine.
It is my responsibility to have a relationship with God!
How does the Bible help me to grow personally?
I would love to take the Bible and reorganise and reorder it according to topics!
A section on parenting, on leadership, on loving your neighbour, on mindset and governing your thoughts, holding your tongue, speaking with compassion, becoming wise and gaining understanding.
Could we agree on which stories, parables or verses should go in each section?
But what I am absolutely sure of – whatever the issue that you are battling, someone in the Bible already battled it. There’s a story in there, somewhere, about how to overcome it.
With compassion and courage.
The Bible is full of lessons of failure, of success and of simply being still to listen to the still, small voice that speaks when we finally sit in silence.
And that’s how I know I can find and practice the presence of “the Self-existent,” “He who becometh,” or “the becoming one.”
3 thoughts on “The best self-help book I’ve ever read?”
Love this so much! I’ve been taken to the verse “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony” over and over again lately. In the sense of how important our story is. How it can really help someone else overcome some hardships. In truth the Bible is very good for that.
I really love the analogy that it’s just a finger pointing. I grew up in a church where they made sure not to use any objects, superstitions or symbolism in any way. Those were seen as idols. All the while the Bible became the idol, which this has helped me see.
At the end of the day we can never ever define the divine. As soon as we do, we put limits on a limitless being.
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